This is the very first picture that's in my current iPhoto album. It was taken in February 2004 in the SMAK Museum in Gent, Belgium. I've often wondered, over the past 3 years, why it's still there. Here's why.
At the beginning of 2004 I was asked to design the graphics for a new museum (and that's all the information that you're going to get about that particular 'day job'). So first I did some research. Now I think it's always best to look outside your own sphere of influence when it comes to research. And I'm a frequent visitor to Gent, so I conducted my research by visiting all the musuems in that fine city. (And if you've never been, you should.)
Now my current thoughts on this subject were sparked by Anne over at I Like who has posted about museums, and the spectacular time capsule of 1970's design - all hessian, earth colours and round corners - that is the Hall of British Birds at the National Museum of Scotland:
This remind me so much of the natuurmuseum in Gent, which has a series of displays in the upper floors that must have come out of this very same era:
To be honest, I'm not absolutely certain about this style of design, but I am very attracted by the nostalgia element, because this type of presentation seems to transport us back to more innocent days. And are associated with museums that have been somewhat neglected, which signals the perfect place to escape from the crowds and wile away an hour or two.
My reason for not being certain about the style of design is that what you remember is the presentation, and not the content (but maybe that's just another symptom of the design disease). But it did make me reflect upon other things that I recorded during my research. And my conclusion is that it is all too easy for designers to do too much. Sometimes by very skilled designers:-
Sometimes the designer is not quite so skilled, but still makes the mistake of trying to be too clever:
And, of particular relevance to Gent (given its geographic position), is how many languages should you use?
Which means that you have to kneel on the floor and put your reading glasses on if you happen to be French, English or German. Still, at least that's not quite so bad as mixing up your styles:
And then you have to consider how the graphics are going to be presented. Should it be on plate glass:
Or maybe perspex:
Which leads me back to that first picture. Because the hardest thing to do is to do as little as possible. That takes skill and courage, but simple laser-cut letters applied directly to the wall tells you everything you need. And when the text is edited down to the bare essentials, doesn't one language suffice?
"Aha", I hear you say - "if it's that easy, why do I need a designer?". Well, because it's set in Eurostyle for a start. And because each line is set at just a slightly different size. And look at the date '2000' at the end of the title - just set slightly smaller. A nice touch. And the non-standard arrow. Whoever did this had the skill to know exactly when enough is enough.
But if you think you can apply the same principles and do it without a designer, just remember that it would end up looking like this:
Which wouldn't do you any favours at all, would it?